Last Wednesday, April 7th, marked the beginning of Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, which lasted until Thursday evening. The Holocaust was one of the most horrific genocides in history, and it is vital that we remember what happened so that it can never happen again.
I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to speak to 92 year old Holocaust survivor Rena Finder after screening the film Schindler’s List, directed by Steven Spielberg. If you’ve never seen the film, I would definitely recommend it, but to give you some background, it follows the story of Oskar Schindler, a German who rescued over 1,000 Jews from concentration camps during WWII at the risk of his own life. He is considered by many Holocaust survivors to be a hero, and descendants of the “Schindler Jews,” as they’re called, pay homage to him at his grave every year.
Being able to hear a survivor like Rena speak about what she experienced firsthand was priceless. We only have a limited time to hear what these survivors have to say in person before none of them are left, and hearing someone speak about what they experienced adds an entirely new depth to one’s understanding of atrocities like the Holocaust. When you are speaking with someone, you can hear the inflection in their voice and see their expressions on their faces. Words on a page, as descriptive as you might be able to make them, will never be able to give you that. I am honestly very afraid of what might happen after all the survivors are gone. With the revival of Nazi ideology and the number of Holocaust-deniers growing, there will be no one left to contradict them. It might be easy for those people to disregard facts, but I would hope it is much more difficult for them to look a survivor in the eyes as they share the reality of what it was like for them and then tell them they’re making it up. However, once no one is left to testify to those things in person, there is nothing stopping those people from carrying on in denial.
I was extremely moved by both listening to Rena and watching the film. Hearing Rena speak was incredibly powerful. I couldn’t tell you why this one line stood out to me out of all the horrible things she said, but as she talked about being forced out of her apartment and having people shout at her as she moved down the line of Jews being evicted, she said that at ten years old, she couldn’t possibly understand what was going on. I started crying. Maybe it was that it I finally understood that she was just a child when she was forced to endure such horrors.
One part of the film I found especially moving was Schindler’s speech at the end, where he breaks down sobbing at the end of the war because he felt there was more he could’ve done to save more people. The actor did a fantastic job portraying the anguish Schindler felt at himself, and I think it was one of the most emotional scenes in the movie. Another moving element of the film was the little girl in the red coat. The entire movie is in black and white except for two scenes: one, when a little girl wearing a red coat is being corralled with all the other Jews and deported from their homes, and two, when the little girl’s body is being carted out of a concentration camp after she was murdered. I think that the use of color in those two segments was Spielberg’s way of helping the audience understand that no one was spared from the heinous acts carried out by the Nazis.
Regardless of how dark this history may be, it is essential to to preserve. In fact, as time goes on, I think it is most important to preserve the darkest parts of the history. As the Holocaust gets farther and farther in the past and the evidence of it deteriorates, people will start to forget that anyone could’ve ever done such horrible things; they will become desensitized to how completely atrocious the genocide really was, and it’s at that point that the world is susceptible to having history repeat itself. That process has already begun, with Neo-Nazism and Holocaust deniers becoming more and more prevalent. Preserving the proof for as long as possible and having memorials such as Yom HaShoah will force people to remember and acknowledge, and I have faith that as long as they remember, they will not allow it to happen again.